February is often revered as the month of love. Jesus poured out his love for us and in turn we show His love to the world through our words and actions. We thought this would be a great month to highlight our Backpacks of Love and their accompanying blankets. Our backpacks are a small token of love that we put together for children around Missouri who might be in a situation where they can’t access their belongings or need a few basic necessities.
It all starts with a backpack. Did you ever get to pick out your school bag at the beginning of the year? That feeling of excitement in getting to decide what color or design you would sport that year is the same excitement you can spark in a child by giving them a bag that can belong to just them. Once you have picked out the perfect backpack, you get to pick out the matching contents for inside. If you are planning to do a young boy’s backpack, you would get a children’s medium t-shirt, a small pair of socks, and 3 pair of small or medium underpants (ones with cartoon characters are always fun!). Then you can add a small stuffed animal/toy, like a dinosaur, a child sized toothbrush and flavored toothpaste, and finally a narrow tooth comb.
We know these items can add up quick, so it is never a problem to visit a good sale or clearance rack. We have even found backpacks at Wal-Mart for about $5 after all the hustle and bustle of back-to-school time. We do appreciate when the items are new and unused as it shows we care about the child’s comfort and dignity.
Once your backpack is stuffed, you can send it to a Sharefest event. After all the events, a group will come help us sort them by size and gender. At that time we will add the blanket of love. These are traditionally handmade blankets that are about 36x45 inches in size. It is always fun to find a blanket to match the theme or colors of the backpack!
After the backpacks are all sorted and counted, they get distributed to agencies such as the Columbia Foster and Adoption Program, Great Circle, God’s Helping Hands (STL), and various CASA programs across the state. The agency representatives who pick them up are always so grateful for the gifts and excited to share them with the children they serve. This reminds us how important it is to share God’s love with children in our communities.
Located in Brunswick, MO
Established by the Ministerial Alliance, the Chariton County Cupboard aims to help relieve hunger and other basic needs to people in the county and surrounding area. Their services have remained active throughout the pandemic as they were able to make adjustments such as requiring masks and limiting the number of clients at one time. They’ve even had a few extra sets of hands from the Missouri National Guard to assist with loading vehicles on distribution days, which they are thankful for. They really appreciate the student dental packs they receive from Festival!
A leisurely drive down Highway 24 can provide beautiful rural scenery and a variety of agriculture. As you reach the communities of Waverly or Lexington you may notice several fruit orchards lining the highway. This area of land, just south of the Missouri River, is favorable for growing fruit such as apples and peaches. As you drive by the rows of trees, you might start to wish you had a glass of cider or a warm apple pie to enjoy. You might be able to fulfill your fall desires at one of the roadside stands or shops.
To have the fresh produce, of course, land, trees, and equipment are needed. Workers are also needed to pick, wash, sort, and pack the fruit. Some of the larger apple orchards in this area depend on the labor of migrant and seasonal farmworkers to prepare the fruit for consumers. Each July, a few hundred workers travel to the Lexington area to begin work in the apple orchards and will stay until the season winds down in late October. The Migrant Farmworkers Assistance Fund (MFAF) in Lexington has been serving and empowering these workers for over 36 years and has been a long-time partner of Festival of Sharing. Items such as rice, hygiene kits, and this year, blankets, are important resources for the workers who must travel lightly and have limited access to transportation.
The MFAF staff greet the farmworkers upon arrival and work with them to determine eligibility for public benefits, arrange medical and dental services, and complete school enrollment forms for children. These services, along with others such as food distributions, preschool, medical case management, youth leadership opportunities, and more, are offered throughout the season. Some resources are maintained year-round for the farmworkers who settle in the area.
Suzanne Gladney, immigration attorney, founded MFAF in 1984 when she discovered that many of her clients in the area experienced needs beyond immigration applications. Rural residents already face difficulty in accessing healthcare and educational resources, but the challenges compound when there are language and transportation barriers. "The workers and families are far away from their home, in areas of poor internet and cell service to connect with friends and family, working long days and weeks through the harvest, living in isolated labor camps .... and they are cheerful, grateful and easy to serve," shares Suzanne.
There are many ways to support the MFAF. You can send monetary and physical donations of food or clothing, but I would encourage you to take a step further. To learn and grow and become relational. To do as the great social justice leader, Bryan Stevenson, encourages: get proximate. Suzanne and the MFAF staff are welcoming of visitors who are interested in building relationships with the farmworkers and their families. You can gather a small group of friends and help at one of their food distributions (currently in a drive-thru format) or go with the staff to the orchards on a weeknight to visit and play games with the families. You can lead a women’s activity group on topics of cooking or crafting. The opportunities for connection, which can open the door to understanding, are there and ripe for the picking.
To find out more about the MFAF, visit http://www.migrantfarmworkersaf.org/.
Until we can visit again, I would like to encourage us all to keep the women in the WERDCC, and individuals incarcerated across the state, in our prayers. Pray that God is with them during their joys and concerns. That they feel comfort and love from their support network and that the facilities and staff can stay safe and healthy. May they still join in the awe and wonder of Jesus’ birth during this season.
We will be making a delivery of about 230 women’s hygiene kits to the WERDCC in early December. These kits will not support all 2,076 women who are housed there, but they can provide some relief and comfort to the women who may not have as many resources. There is a little store inside the WERDCC with higher quality hygiene items the women can purchase. To do so, one must have money in their account, which can be added to by friends and family. When someone doesn’t have funds, Chaplain Barnhart will help them access one of our hygiene kits, a small way we can share God’s love with them.
There are a few ways to join the support of prison ministries. As mentioned previously you can pray for the women, men, and youth who are incarcerated. You can send money to the Festival of Sharing designated for women’s prison kits. Sometimes facilities have other needs such as books for their library. The facility’s Chaplain would be a great person to start that connection with.
In its early years, Festival of Sharing was called the Bishop’s Convocation. It was planned by United Methodists in Missouri and held at the University of Missouri-Columbia’s Trowbridge Livestock arena. The day involved the gathering of various kits and food for the hungry and the distribution of live animals and blankets to outside organizations such as Heifer Project International (Now Heifer International) and Church World Service.
One year, the convocation welcomed a unique guest speaker. American country comedian, Sarah Ophelia Colley Cannon, more professionally known as Minnie Pearl, performed and spoke for the 1,500 attendees. Wearing her infamous yellow straw hat, Minnie Pearl spoke of Grinders Switch, the mythical place where she lived and where there was no sickness, poverty, and where you mostly worried about what you were going to wear to the church social. After her performance, Sarah stepped out of the persona to share the story of her career, faith in God, and concern for those less fortunate in the world. Her time and travel for the performance that day was donated as charity. She spoke of being a Methodist herself and the importance for people in show business to pay their dues through charity performances. Later in the day, attendees took up a collection and purchased a heifer to be named Minnie Pearl and donated in her honor.
Having an iconic performer join the Bishop’s Convocation (later known as Festival of Sharing), both in terms of entertainment and as a witness of faith, is a special moment in our program’s history. Sarah was respected by communities in and out of country music and was instrumental in the history of Music City U.S.A. (Nashville, TN) and the Grand Ole Opry. We appreciate her acts as a United Methodist laywoman and celebrate the trail she blazed for female entertainers.
Drummond, B. (n.d.). Minnie Pearl tells of simple pleasures. Columbia Missourian.
Moore, B. (2019, September 13). Meet Minnie Pearl: Legendary and unifying force. The Boot, https://theboot.com/who-is-minnie-pearl/
The 2020 Festival of Sharing Quilt Auction will look different this year. That seems to be the theme with many other things in life right now. What was originally planned to be a hybrid model auction-with some quilts being featured in online and some in-person- has now moved fully to an online auction. There's a first time for everything!
While we will definitely miss displaying and admiring the quilts in person, the quilt auction committee is grateful for this safe alternative and excited for the opportunity to expand our reach. By moving online, we can share the auction site with more friends near and far who will be able to view and bid the quilts in their own time and space.
So how does it work?
Bidding will open at 8 a.m. CST on Nov. 5 and close at 11:59 p.m. CST on Nov. 14, 2020. Quilt photos, details, and bidding information can be found at benefitbidding.com/festivalofsharing. The proceeds of the online auction will still support the work of the Church World Service (CWS) Blanket program. As we see the ways CWS is responding during the pandemic and natural disasters of 2020, we are reminded of the impact our gifts and auction contributions can make.
What will I need to participate?
Access to the internet, whether that's through a phone, computer, or tablet, and an email address. When you find the quilt that's just right for you, all you have to do is click "Bid on This Item Now" and if you're new, it will take you to a registration page where you can enter your name and email or phone number. Make sure to select how you want to receive notifications so you can stay up-to-date on the items you're interested in.
I submitted the winning bid. Now what?
Congrats and thank you! If you have the winning bid on a quilt(s), you will be notified of the total amount due. At that time, you will enter your credit card information and let us know if you want your items to be shipped, or if you will pick them up (3601 Amron Ct, Columbia, MO 65202). Please give us a few days to process the quilts and prepare them for shipping/pick up. You will be notified by email when your quilt is ready!
Volunteering helps you get to know the organizations in your community. You may also discover resources and activities to use with your own family or friends.
Volunteering can help you make new friends and contacts.If you’re new to the community or are looking to meet people with common interests, volunteering is a great way to socialize and make new friends with common interests.
Don’t forget the health benefits!Doing good and being in community with others can boost your self-confidence, fight stress, depression and will keep you physically active.
You can learn job skills and provide career experience.Depending on the location or service, volunteering may require you to use communication, organization, time management, teamwork and other valuable skills.
Bring fun and fulfillment to your life.Use the opportunity to explore your interests or passion and break up your everyday routine. You may find it will fuel your creativity, motivations, and vision that impact your personal and professional life.
How do you find the right volunteering opportunity?
Ask yourself a few questions.
Do you prefer working alone or on a team? Do you enjoy behind the scenes work or more visible roles? How much time are you willing to commit? What causes are important to you? What skills could you bring to the opportunity?
Consider several possibilities.
Request to visit organizations to see what the environment and staff/volunteers are like.
Volunteers are needed in all kinds of places!
Libraries, senior/community centers, service organizations (Rotary Clubs), animal shelters or rescue organizations, community theaters or museums
Volunteering and its surprising benefits. (n.d.). Help Guide. Retrieved March 30, 2020 from
Benefits of community service. (n.d.). Western Connecticut State University. Retrieved March 30, 2020
Take a look at the Sharefest’s event page before you arrive.
On the event page you’ll find a detailed schedule, information on social distancing and hand hygiene, and a link to register. The individual event pages can be found at festivalofsharing.org/sharefests.
Bring a reusable water bottle.
Festival of Sharing is taking steps to be more environmentally friendly and we need your help! Staying hydrated is important for any Sharefest participant.
Dress for the weather.
Most of our activities take place outside as long as the weather isn’t severe. And if we’re being real, it’s Missouri, so you should probably bring a jacket, sunscreen and an umbrella. Don't forget your mask in 2020!
Invite your friends!
Our events are free and open to the public for kids of all ages. While in 2020 we will be limiting the activities due to safety concerns, we typically have activities for our friends who can sit, stand, sort, lift, count, organize and more. Please stay tuned for 2021 when we can hopefully incorporate our activities back into the Sharefest days!
Prepare your heart.
The day will be full of joy, fellowship, and hard work. We do all of this for the opportunity to serve our neighbors and glorify God.
By Sidney Owens
Near the end of winter each year, Festival of Sharing begins sorting and preparing garden seeds for distribution to a list of community gardens around Missouri. Copy paper boxes line multiple tables as volunteers go down the row dropping a few of each type of seed in a box. The result: about a 10-pound mixture of vegetables, herbs, fruit, and flower seeds in each box. Occasionally you will find a really unique seed like a lemon cucumber, but most of the time you see your common garden plants such as green beans, peas, carrots, broccoli, spinach, watermelon, and so on. Seeds are one of my favorite parts of our ministry. As a gardener myself, I appreciate the opportunity to raise and care for my own food. It is so exciting to see those boxes full of seeds that families or garden clubs are going to work together on and enjoy for the next several months.
This year, our seeds went out at the end of February when most people were still experiencing the cold Missouri weather. Recently, I reconnected with our seed recipients to see if they were able to plant anything between the pandemic and wet weather. While some seeds are awaiting planting, others filled a gap presented by COVID-19. Because of an abundance of seed donations in 2019, we were able to provide our state’s Cultivating Restorative Justice Gardens program with two boxes of seeds, which supported their 19 locations across the state. Offenders in the correctional centers work in the gardens and then donate the produce to local food banks, shelters, and schools. As the pandemic began, some of the food banks these gardens support saw 40% increases in new clients seeking food relief. With these seeds the gardens can increase their produce donations at a time when food resources are greatly needed.
One church who received seeds was not able to proceed with their community garden as originally planned but distributed the seeds among their congregation and encouraged home gardening during quarantine. This helped fill a gap for young adults who live alone and are under or unemployed during this time. One member of a Master Gardner group has a greenhouse with many vegetable plants started and awaiting the perfect conditions to be moved outside. The produce from these plants will also be shared with local food banks.
While we are adjusting to new ways of life and processing the different emotions involved with this experience, hope is growing. In peoples’ backyards, on their porches, in green houses, and in correctional facilities. Food is a basic need and without it comes fear and anxiety. It is a blessing to know that what started out as a typical ministry has grown into something that will fill a gap during this extraordinary time. We are thankful for the ways in which God uses our gifts and the talent of gardeners across Missouri to grow hope and security.